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Adam Bernard: The Car Guy

BTL photo: Andrew Potter

When considering character in these socially progressive times, it'd be impolite to "judge a book by its cover." According to auto aficionado Adam Bernard – associate director of competitor intelligence at General Motors and president of the Lambda Car Club's Motor City chapter – it's much more efficient to judge the book (and its owner) by the car they're driving.
"We've done market research that gay and lesbian customers are more likely to buy a vehicle that reflects their personality," he says.
Bernard sits inside a downtown Royal Oak Starbucks during an unseasonably warm day, talking shop and cruising cars. He veers off subject to admire a passing classic: "There's a nice Plymouth. I am not sure the two-tone was standard. I think that might have been a custom job."
Cars are his life – and they've been since childhood.
"I am told that my dad would bring home Matchbox cars when I was a kid – and I would spend hours with those," Bernard says. "So, I had the Matchbox cars. Then I got into slot cars. Then I got into building model cars. I originally wanted to be an automotive designer, so I started drawing cars."
Now, Bernard, 49, collects classic cars. And his current car of choice is a 1972 Mini Cooper – the "Adamini."
In his dual roles at GM, Bernard monitors the company's competition as an analyst of sorts and presents his findings to heads of the company. As chair in GM's internal resource group, GM PLUS (People Like Us), he works as part of a diverse team of in-house consultants for the LGBT employee and buyer.
"(Consultant) is a good way to phrase (my job)," Bernard says. "We explain, for example, why you shouldn't use terms like 'choice,' 'lifestyle' and 'preference' – because that's not what we are. So we do a lot of presentations to leadership teams to let them know who we are and what matters to us. And then we tie that into the business strategy."
He adds, "We are kind of the one-stop shop in terms of supporting our LGBT employees. Let's say someone at Buick sees an opportunity for some sort of LGBT event that they don't know anything about – they come to us. One of us might be able to provide our perspective on whether it resonates with the community or something that we would want to steer clear of."
The GM Chevrolet brand recently won a GLAAD Amplifier Award for their "I'm Electric" ad that appeared in Between The Lines in June 2012 for Pride month. The ad depicts the Volt hybrid car between a truck and a sedan announcing: "Mom, Dad, I'm Electric" with the signature rainbow strip of colors at the bottom. GM is also recognized as one of the best places to work for LGBT equality by the Human Rights Campaign.
"A lot of what GM does is more on the communications and marketing side in terms of getting the message out in the right venue in the right media and using the right terminology," Bernard explains. "If you saw the Spark ad that we did for Motor City Pride this year, where we showed the rainbow colors of the Spark, that subtle rainbow image may not resonate with your typical Iowa housewife, but it is something that would resonate with LGBT buyers. So a lot of that is understanding the imagery and the terminology that would make more of an impact to an LGBT person shopping for a car."
Bernard has been with GM for about 28 years. Shortly after coming out in 2000 at 36, he found the Lambda Car Club, GM Plus and Rich Kwiecien, his partner of 12 years.
"He comes from a Ford family, so it's kind of a mixed marriage," says Bernard. "He has a '63 Lincoln with the suicide doors. A '79 white Town Car with red velour. And a '62 Ford Galaxy."
As for which GM brand has a car that fulfills the "homo-bill" stereotype, Bernard doesn't pay attention to it – and, he says, cars, like gays, come in all shapes, sizes and ages.
"I don't think there is any such thing as a gay car or a gay truck. The purchase motivations are a little different for the LGBT consumer," Bernard explains. "We have tools to help us understand the LGBT buyer. So whenever we tell our story, it's always a two-prong story. Part of it is the cultural and human part of it. And part of it is the business, because we are a business."
He adds, "I think we have a car for everyone."
One pattern Bernard notices in the Lambda Car Club is a taste for regality.
"You will find a much higher percentage of Cadillacs, Lincolns and Imperials than you will in the real world," says Bernard. "We do like stuff that's a little more showy. If you are buying a car for fun, it's driven by an appreciation of the vehicle or a nostalgic connection. I like the Mini because it's brilliantly engineered and because my mechanical engineering background. I stumbled across my Mini in the classifieds one Sunday back when people used the newspaper for that."
Bernard admits that in order to be in his line of work, you'd have to have a pretty good understanding of the LGBT's personal psyche. Something he says he understands "pretty well."
"I've been involved with GM PLUS since 2001, and at the time I don't think I knew any transgender individuals," he says. "That's probably the biggest part of my own education – understanding the transgender community, the terminology and understanding somewhat what they are going through, and the history of the whole transgender movement. We've had a couple of transgender members on our board, so that's been my biggest eye opener."
And as times change, companies like GM reflect those times.
"GM was the first and only automaker to support ENDA nationwide. And you know what, you are at work and you shouldn't be spending time spinning tales about your personal life because you are not comfortable bringing your whole self to work. That's where we try to come in and create an inclusive environment so people can contribute fully to the business."

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